No discipline, no output

Writing is a very creative process. In the initial stages, there’s not much discipline around as I’m so caught up in developing the story I often forget both to cook and shop, causing me to survive on copious amounts of tea and too much chocolate. This stage is exhausting – productivity is at an all-time high and I am burning energy as if there is no tomorrow, especially as I also have a pretty demanding day-job.

Some writers love this part of the process. I don’t, uncomfortable with the way I am engulfed by the creative side in me. You see, in all other aspects of my life I am VERY disciplined. I write lists. I plan dinners a week at the time. I am a structural fascist. Having my brain taken over by my characters—and a loud and opinionated lot they are—is way out of my comfort zone, however exhilarating it is.

Fortunately, once the first draft is in place, I can resort to structure. This is when I rewrite and revise. Historical fiction authors come in all sizes. For some, the human-interest angle overshadows everything else, and a couple of historical errors is neither here nor there. For others, the historical facts must be as correct as they can be. I belong to the latter category, and my penchant for lists and structure—discipline—come in handy when I double-check my facts. Or when I chase up little details such as on what day exactly was there a full moon in April of 1328. Or spend hours studying what medieval maps I can find of the various towns in which my story takes place.

I think this is my favourite phase of the writing process, lovely hours spent organising my work, comparing my research notes with the story and the settings. This is also when I discover that perfect scene in which my heroine is staring out towards the west and the setting sun has to go as the castle she is in would not offer all that much of a view to the west. I sigh mightily at having to cut the scene—but pat myself on the back for having the fortitude to do so. After all, facts are facts.

Mind you, a historical novel without human-interest would be pretty boring. Especially, if like me, you’re into searing love stories, intense love scenes and some sort of HEA (Happily Ever After). So while the discipline—fact-checking, plot-structure, realistic character arcs, revised grammar & spelling—build the foundations, it is the creative whimsy, the actual people, their lives and loves, which make up the icing. And who wants cake without icing, hey? Not me, at any rate!

My latest release is set in 14th century England: An inept king is forcibly deposed and replaced by his young son; the queen mother and her lover Roger Mortimer take over the actual ruling and the barons of England don’t like it one bit, to be lorded over by an adulterous wife and her bit on the side. This is all historical fact, hours of research laying the framework for the story. A story with plenty of human-interest as it stands, but to really spice things up I’ve added the fictional character Adam de Guirande, torn between his love for his young king, his former lord Mortimer—and his wife.

The end result is (I hope) quite the heady brew of medieval intrigue, treachery and passion. But it is the disciplined approach to historical facts and trivia that help build the setting and atmosphere. It is through discipline that I build my medieval world, lacing it with sufficient details to transport the readers right into the draughty guest hall of the Priory of St Mary, one very cold December day in 1327.

It had been decided that the former king was to be buried at St Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester. Some days into December, the court was slowly making its way across a sodden and gloomy England, the king preferring to ride apart with his young companions.

They arrived in Worcester in a squall of rain and sleet. Kit had never entered Worcester from the east before, having always approached from the west and over the bridge spanning the Severn, but once through the gate, the town was very much as she remembered it—albeit surprisingly empty of people, which she took to be due to the freezing weather. They made their way towards the river and the huge whitewashed church of the priory of St Mary’s, stark against the grey skies beyond. By the time they were ushered inside the priory’s guest hall, they were muddy and cold to the bone.

Kit settled herself in a corner, waiting for the bustle to settle. The queen insisted on private accommodation, and the little prior bowed and scraped, hands twisting nervously as he assured his lady queen he would do everything to fulfil her wishes.
Kit pulled her damp cloak closer and suppressed a shiver.
“Cold?” King Edward sat down beside her.
“And wet.”
So was he, his hair plastered to his head. A day of constant wind and rain had left him with windburn, he had a streak of mud under his right eye, and his boots squelched when he moved. And yet it wasn’t that which moved her to place a hand on his face—it was the shadows under his eyes, the uncertain set to his mouth.
“It will be over soon, my lord.”
“Will it?” He pulled off his gloves, rubbing his hands. “I am not so sure, Lady Kit.” He scraped at a scab on his hand, studying the little beads of blood intently.
“Once he is laid at rest, things will be easier.” She used her sleeve to wipe his hand clean of blood.
Edward grunted, no more, sinking into a heavy silence. Kit cast about for a somewhat cheerier subject.
“Looking forward to your wedding, my lord?”
The king blinked. “My wedding?” His mouth curved into a soft smile, and he nodded. “She will be on her way soon.” He gnawed his lip, throwing Kit a look from under long, fair lashes. “I hope she is as pleased as I am.”
“Oh, I am sure she is.”
“Truly?” He smiled again, briefly. He made as if to say something, broke off. Kit waited. “I…” He turned troubled eyes on Kit. “I have never…er…deflowered a maid.”
“I am glad to hear that,” Kit said, laughing silently at his discomfited expression.
“Will I hurt her? I don’t want to, but Montagu says it always hurts the first time for a woman.” He leaned back against the wall, long legs extended before him.
“It doesn’t have to.” Kit recalled her own wedding night. It had been uncomfortable as Adam had been convinced she was no virgin. But he had made amends, loving her with far more tenderness the second time around.
“Lady Philippa will have been told two things: that it may hurt, and that she must lay back and bear it—as any good wife must.” She rubbed at her belly. In response, the child within kicked. “If you want a happy marriage, you don’t want her to lay back and bear it, my lord. You want her to enjoy it.” From the amused look in the king’s eyes and the heat in her cheeks, Kit suspected she was presently the bright red of rowan berries, but she pushed on. “You must…well, I suppose you have to…” She glared at him. “Why don’t you ask Adam instead?”
“He’s not a woman.” The king studied his hands. “I have to touch her, don’t I?” He cleared his throat. “Everywhere.”
“Yes.” Kit fiddled with the clasps of her cloak. “Touch her and kiss her until she strains towards you.”
“What if she doesn’t?”
“Then you’re not touching her boldly enough.”
The king grinned. “Can I hope for some demonstrations, Lady Kit?”
“Most certainly not!” She stood. “If you want further guidance, I suggest you ask someone else.”
“Like Adam.” Yet again that broad grin. “He must do everything right, to judge from your bright face, my lady.”
Kit grinned back, patting her belly. “As a matter of fact, my lord, he does.”

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